'Huge Influx' Of Ballots In Johnson County Delays Election Results

Nov 9, 2016

Credit Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

Updated 3:47 p.m., Wednesday

A “huge influx” of advance mail ballots and voters newly registering or changing their registration before the election combined to delay the county’s election results until early Wednesday afternoon, Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said.

“We were overwhelmed with the turnout of the voters in almost every step of the way in this election,” Metsker said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “It was almost as unique in Johnson County as it was in other parts of the country.”

Johnson County was the last county in Kansas to tabulate and post its results. Metsker said that was because poll workers noticed that “when we went to do the tally at a given point, it just stopped. And then we noticed that there were a whole bunch … proportions of the file just simply missing.”

Metsker said at that point the tally was stopped and, after several hours, resumed by going back to an earlier backup point.

“The end result is we had to redo the scanning of way over three hours-worth of very meticulous scanning of paper ballots, converting them into a digital file that then could be put into the tabulation software to tally the votes,” Metsker said.

It was a baptism by fire for Metsker, a former chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party who served in the Kansas House of Representatives from 2006 to 2008.

A total of 288,825 ballots were cast in Johnson County, Metsker said, equal to voter turnout of 70.87 percent. While high by historical standards, that percentage was eclipsed in 2008, when he said it hit 78.9 percent.

Metsker said his chief concern was getting an accurate tally, no matter how much time it took. He vowed, however, that the situation would not recur under his watch.

“It might mean new software, new hardware, new protocols,” Metsker said, “but we will do an exhaustive investigation into what happened, what needs to be done to fix it and assure that it never happens again.”

Updated 9:43 a.m., Wednesday

Nearly 99 percent of precincts in Kansas were reporting election results by 10 a.m. Wednesday, after a server crash in Johnson County delayed outcomes.

The Kansas Secretary of State's website resumed posting the county's data shortly before 9 a.m.

"They basically had to re-create the election," said Bryan Caskey, director of elections for the State of Kansas, of the Johnson County Election Office. 

"What I know is that when they process their ballots, at the end of processing, they produce what's called a results file that they then take out of their computer that tabulates the results," said Caskey. "And they take it out of that to then distribute to us and to the media."

A huge volume of mailed advance ballots were received Tuesday, and the volume crashed the server.

"So it corrupted the results file — it didn't affect any ballots or anything like that," Caskey said.

He says the process to re-tabulate votes didn't start until late in the evening.

"So they spent most of the night basically re-running all the ballots through the counting machine," he said.

Original post follows: 

Early Wednesday morning, the presidential race was over, but there was still no result in the race for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.  That’s not because the contest is close, but because the Johnson County Election Office has yet to tabulate and publish the results.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, the county office published voting results with 62.95 percent of precincts reporting. Republican incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder led Democratic challenger Jay Sidie with 53 percent of the vote, a vote difference of more than 37,000.

Election officials were dealing with an “onslaught” of paper ballots received close to Election Day, according to the Kansas City Star. The Johnson County Election Office posted on its website: "We overwhelmed our tabulation while scanning paper ballots and were forced to start over with the latest backup from 8:00 p.m."

The site provided two results updates overnight, but they stated that "we will not be able to report until the Secretary of State resumes collection of results at 9:00 a.m." 

Sidie left supporters and went home to his family around 10 p.m. Tuesday. 

“I’m going home to tuck my kids into bed,” Sidie said. “I told my daughters – I have one that’s 11, one that’s 14 – that it was probably going to be a late night, so I’d go home, tuck them in.”

Turns out Sidie had the right idea, because the results weren’t coming anytime soon.

Johnson County Election officials did not respond to a request for comment about the delays. 

KCUR's Jeremy Bernfeld and Laura Spencer contributed to this report.

Frank Morris is a national correspondent and senior editor at KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @FrankNewsman.